“The Long Call” Season 1 Review: An Engrossing Queer-Led Murder Mystery!

The Long Call Season 1 review Matthew and Jen
Matthew and Jen in the first episode of “The Long Call” Season 1

Adapted from the novel of the same name by best-selling author Ann Cleeves and starring Ben Aldridge, The Long Call season one (consisting of only 4-episodes) served me an intriguing murder mystery with a queer lead.

This review of The Long Call season one contains certain spoilers. Consider yourself warned!

Trigger Warning: A story thread in The Long Call deals with sexual assault.

I’m glad I got to know about The Long Call season one about a week or so before the series premiere on October 25 on ITV. The four episodes aired on consecutive nights, with the finale airing October 28. It’s now available on BritBox, too. Frankly, I won’t mind if you stop reading this review and go binge-watch The Long Call right now. I found it to be quite enjoyable.

The premise deals with DI Matthew Venn (Ben Aldrige) coming back to his Devon hometown (with some stunning scenery) due to his father falling ill. Matthew has been there for six months. However, he’s been keeping his visits to his ailing father a secret. Why? It’s because Matthew, as a teen, broke away from the evangelical cult he grew up in due to the members (including his mother, played impressively by Juliet Stevenson) didn’t approve of him being gay. The first episode opened with Matthew getting ready to attend his father’s funeral and it was made quite clear that Matthew’s not really welcome.

The Long Call has been promoted as the first-ever offering in British television starring a gay detective as the lead. And I’m happy to report that the writers didn’t shy away from showcasing Matthew’s sexuality. There are numerous scenes with Matthew being intimate and enjoying domestic life with his husband Jonathan (Declan Bennett). We got a kiss in the first minute!

It was nice to see a supportive queer marriage as Matthew dove deeper into solving a local murder while dealing with the resurfacing issues from his childhood. I’ll come back to talking about the well-written queer representation in a bit. First, I would like to share my opinions about the murder mystery aspect involving a dead man named Simon (Luke Ireland).

While I enjoy shows like Sherlock and Elementary, the leads of such mystery content are portrayed as geniuses and the manner they go about solving crimes can get quite confusing (and induce a few eye rolls due to the occasional deus ex machina tropes). Matthew’s different. He’s a capable detective in a relatable sense. I liked seeing him and DC Jen Rafferty (Pearl Mackie) trying to solve the Simon-related puzzle while taking the audience along with them.

I have seen certain viewers tweet about how they found the pacing in The Long Call to be slow. In my opinion, the slow pacing worked in the narrative’s favor. Detective work can be very slow, especially due to all of the red tape involved. Detectives can’t simply break into other people’s houses or hack into security systems on a whim. So, yes, Matthew and Jen do have to wait for the proper permissions and information to come through. And that’s a good thing because while they both wait, we get to learn more about their lives as well as gain insight into other characters on the board. The four episodes had a good amount of twists and turns when it came to which character was connected to whom and how.

What starts as a murder case transforms into something that could upend things for a whole lot of people in Devon. Seeing Matthew and Jen trying to get to the bottom of the mystery while facing a number of obstacles made for interesting TV. The overall mystery is easy to follow while having some unexpected developments. I enjoyed side-eyeing particular characters and stating out loud whom Matthew and Jen shouldn’t fully trust. 

I think the main theme in The Long Call dealt with freedom. Almost every character is trying to seek freedom, helping someone else achieve it, or taking someone else’s freedom away. I liked how the writers handled Lucy (Sarah Gordy) dealing with her overprotective father (Alan Williams). Due to Lucy having Down Syndrome, I could understand where her father was coming from, but the fact remained that Lucy was an adult and had the right to live her life the way she wanted to. 

Jen came to Devon with her two kids to regain a new sense of freedom. If we get a second season, I hope to see more of Jen’s interactions with her kids. I liked how she stood up to her co-worker when he continued to cross a line while making his “jokes”.

Simon also came to Devon to find something new, but, alas, things didn’t work out well for him.

Dennis (Martin Shaw), the leader of the evangelical cult was all about maintaining control over the members. Antia Dobson, who played Dennis’ wife Grace, did a great job of showcasing the impact of Dennis’ control. 

Even Matthew found himself coming back to Devon because he wanted to find a way to be free of the shame he’s kept inside for all those years. Matthew thought mending his relationship with his mother would help him stop feeling ashamed because his real queer self was conflicting with the version his parents wanted him to be.

I think numerous queer individuals go through a similar experience. Due to his upbringing, Matthew, even as a married gay man, couldn’t fully brush off the shame that had been ingrained into his brain. He was taught that being queer was a sin. And he took that shame into his adulthood and it manifested itself through Matthew not being comfortable holding Jonathan’s hand in public or not correcting Grace when she referred to Jonathan as Matthew’s “friend” instead of his husband. Jonathan even had to warn Matthew to not take off his wedding ring when attending his father’s funeral. In Matthew’s mind, if only his mother, who taught him such ideas, could just bless his married life with Jonathan and see her son for who he really was, he could stop emotionally beating himself up.

I really liked seeing Jonathan, a proud gay married man, addressing Matthew’s issues with his sexuality and what led him to come back to Devon. As far as Jonathan is concerned, Matthew didn’t need his mother’s or anyone else’s validation. Jonathan wasn’t going to leave Matthew, but feeling ashamed was something Matthew would need to solve himself by accepting his truth. If the second book in the series (The Heron’s Cry) gets adapted, I hope to see Matthew being more open as a queer individual, even if his mother doesn’t accept that aspect of his existence.

Talking about Jonathan, I liked how he was also involved in the main story. A lot of times, such shows have the spouse on the sidelines, only appearing in scenes involving the protagonist’s life at home. In my opinion, it made sense for Jonathan to be around for some of the interrogation scenes and while searching for a particular character because of the nature of his job. Fingers crossed, this trend continues if this show returns for a second outing. My only condition is that Jonathan better not get hurt! I’m definitely okay with Matthew getting a few bumps and bruises, though. He can handle them.

Now, I’m imagining a scene where Matthew’s all injured and Jonathan lovingly patches him up. Ha!

With Jonathan being a huge support system for Matthew, I hope the second season shows Matthew stepping up and being there for Jonathan in his time of need while facing something emotionally heavy. 

the long call season 1 review matthew and jonathan
Jonathan and Matthew before the funeral in the first episode of “The Long Call” Season 1

The conflict between certain religious beliefs and queer sexuality was quite well done, in my opinion. I liked how the narrative showed that there’s nothing wrong with believing in a higher entity to find a sense of peace or belonging. The problem was people using religious teachings as an excuse to be hateful toward others or forcing or shaming them to succumb to their will. Unfortunatley, the real world has many examples of certain religious leaders using their positions to fuel their egos. I liked how The Long Call allowed some of the characters to stand up to such individuals even if in a fictional setting.

The show also deals with sexual assault and how difficult it can be for a person to come forward with the truth. It’s a sad fact that we live in a society that still has people who try to justify sexual assault with words like, “I didn’t hear a proper ‘no’!” or how it has become confusing to differentiate what is and isn’t considered assault in current times.

For those wondering, the sexual assault isn’t shown onscreen. A character simply shares what happened to them with Matthew and Jen in a non-graphic manner.

Bringing my review of The Long Call to a close, I highly recommend you watch this miniseries. I hope it gets the support it deserves and we get to see Matthew tackle another case. The first season left the characters in some very interesting places. I’m looking forward to seeing how they will develop as the story continues.

And while I wait, I think I should go ahead and read both books.

Have you watched The Long Call?

Let us know.

Author: Farid-ul-Haq

Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.


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1 thought on ““The Long Call” Season 1 Review: An Engrossing Queer-Led Murder Mystery!

  1. Yes, I watched The Long Call with my partner Andrew of 23 years. It was refreshing to see a lead character in a gritty murder case being gay/queer. How things have changed. Mathew and Jonathan live the sort of open life I considered to be normal around the late 1970s. I came out aged 40 in 1992 when a younger guy started living with me. He was 19 and the age of consent had been reduced to 18. My father ignored it, my mother was very hostile: “we don’t approve of that sort of thing.” I live in a small village in the Derbyshire Peak District and it’s a little bit remote. Farms and fields around us. Yet the village youths who were about 17-20 or so were fine and they used to walk around in the summer evening and stop and chat to my boyfriend and me and come into the garden and sprawl about on the lawn. They weren’t bothered at all about us. Had they grown up in a different era to me 1980s rather than 1960s – me?

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